76. In Down’s End Court
The bulldog-faced man with the gold medallion stood to greet the newcomers. “Fair morning and welcome. I am Simun Baldwin, mayor of Down’s End. To my left is Alderman Barnet. Please approach the bar, state your name, and explain why you have requested a hearing with the Council.”
Kenelm Ash and Amicia were halfway to the railing before Amicia noticed the presence of others in the courtroom. When she recognized Milo, Amicia’s jaw dropped in bewilderment and (Milo hoped) happiness. She stopped and half turned toward him, at the same time seizing Kenelm’s arm with her left hand. Kenelm’s face also registered surprise, but he kept his composure. Kenelm tugged on Amicia’s arm, she shut her mouth, and they turned their attention to the mayor of Down’s End. Baldwin took his seat, waving them closer to the bar.
Kenelm stood ramrod straight a step behind Amicia, who bowed to the mayor, then placed both hands on the rail. “Fair morning, my Lord Mayor. My name is Amicia Mortane. I represent my brother, Lord Aylwin Mortane of Hyacintho Flumen. Sir Kenelm Ash, my guard, is a trusted knight sworn to my lord brother’s service. We seek audience with the Down’s End Council to bring kind greetings from my lord brother. More importantly, we bring great and evil tidings from the south.” Amicia bowed again, indicating the close of her speech.
“Great and evil tidings? Hm.” Mayor Baldwin leaned forward on his elbows. The bushy white eyebrows seemed even more prominent. “The Council’s next meeting is four days hence, but for great and evil tidings perhaps I should call an emergency session. Alderman Barnet, give the young lady attention. I will need your advice presently. Lady Mortane, please tell us what transpires in the south.”
Amicia stiffened her back. “The army of Herminia, borne on sixty ships, ten thousand men of arms, has invaded Tarquint. They have surrounded Hyacintho Flumen. My lord brother acceded to his castle only last summer, so the Herminians may believe he cannot yet protect Hyacintho Flumen by magic. It is more likely, however, that they intend to besiege us and force submission through starvation.
“Lord Aylwin sends me to Down’s End to ask for aid in breaking the siege and to warn of the coming of the invader. Make no mistake: the Herminians will not be content to take Hyacintho Flumen. The Ice Queen intends to make slaves of us all. The time and place to defeat the invader is now, in the south, before her armies reach Down’s End.”
Milo felt a swirl of emotions: pride in Amicia’s performance as ambassador in a foreign city, consternation that the enemy should choose Hyacintho Flumen as the place to attack, and gratification that disaster had come upon Aylwin so quickly. At the same time, he had a premonition that this turn of events presented him with a vast opportunity, though for the moment he couldn’t tell how he should use it.
Mayor Baldwin tilted his head. His gaze kept moving from Amicia to Milo and back. Still leaning on his elbows, he turned toward Barnet. “What do you think, Alderman? Are these great and evil tidings sufficient reason to summon the Council?”
Barnet made an open palm gesture. “My Lord Mayor, I think not. If the Herminians besiege Hyacintho Flumen, it will take months or a whole year or longer to subdue the castle. Suppose the Council chose to intervene on behalf of Lord Mortane. The best time to do so would be in the spring. We would have all winter to consider our course and raise an army. Personally, I am not convinced a threat to Aylwin Mortane is a threat to Down’s End. Other aldermen will be equally skeptical, I’m sure.”
“I agree. Lady Mortane, I invite you to the regular Council meeting Monday morning in the Down’s End Council Chamber. That’s the big room at the end of the corridor.” Mayor Baldwin waved vaguely with his right hand. “I warn you that you will find it hard to persuade councilors to fight for a castle lord. It was only in my grandfather’s day that the lords of Hyacintho Flumen abandoned their attempts to collect hidgield on the South Downs. Memories of lordly conceit still linger in Down’s End.”
Amicia bowed her head, unsurprised. “Thank you, Lord Mayor, for this invitation. My lord brother warned me that our plea might fall on initially unreceptive ears. The people of Down’s End will not be quickly convinced that my brother’s war is your war. Nevertheless, it is true; when we fight, we defend you. Therefore I am willing to speak to anyone, high or low, to explain how it is wise for Down’s End to resist the invader. I gratefully accept your invitation to address the Council on Monday.”
Amicia took a half-step back, as if she expected to be dismissed. Baldwin beckoned her back to the rail with a slight gesture. “Lady Mortane, if I am not mistaken, you are acquainted with the men on your right.” He tilted his head toward Milo and Derian.
Amicia turned and made eye contact with Milo. He answered her tremulous smile with a wide grin. After a moment, grin begot grin. “My Lord Mayor, I know one of these men quite well, but the other is a stranger to me. The taller man, with the dark hair, is my brother, Milo Mortane.”
“I thought as much.” Baldwin shifted in his chair and summoned Milo with a wave. “Sir Milo Mortane. Earlier you introduced yourself as a sheriff of Stonebridge. But Lady Mortane of Hyacintho Flumen claims you as her brother. Can you explain this?”
Milo approached the railing and inclined his head, acknowledging the mayor. “Easily, Lord Mayor. It is a story as old as inheritances and brothers. My father, Hereward, chose Aylwin to succeed him as lord of Hyacintho Flumen rather than me, though I am older. Sadly, it is true that some lords cannot feel secure whilst their siblings live. Therefore I deemed it best to leave Hyacintho Flumen before my brother should fall prey to jealousy or suspicion. This happened at the beginning of summer.
“My squire and I happened to meet with a merchant of Stonebridge on the road, none other than Derian Chapman. We became friends and, as Derian said, I helped to protect his wagons from attack. Derian felt some gratitude toward me, I think, so in Stonebridge he introduced me to his uncle, Ody Dans. Master Dans inducted me into the city guard. I am, in fact, a sheriff of Stonebridge, sworn to protect her laws.”
The mayor nodded. “I take it, then, as you have been abroad from Hyacintho Flumen, that the invasion of the Herminians was unknown to you?”
“Aye, my Lord Mayor. Amicia’s words are the first I have heard of this matter.”
“Nevertheless, you are familiar with the strength of Hyacintho Flumen and its defenses?”
“My Lord Mayor, I was familiar with the castle until the day I left. Since then, my brother has acceded to the lordship; his bond may be stronger or weaker than my father’s. If he had warning of the invader, he may have enlarged the garrison. Sir Kenelm would know about these things.”
“I see.” Baldwin pursed his lips, then stood. “Eulard, a word in private.” The alderman rose and followed the mayor through the side door.
Milo quickly stepped to Amicia and threw his arms around her. Then he clasped hands with Kenelm. “Fair morning, and well met, Sir,” Kenelm said.
“Well met, indeed, Kenelm.” Milo turned to the clerk, Godfried. “Are we expected to stay?”
The clerk’s Adam’s apple bobbed. “I think Mayor Baldwin intends to return presently. It would be best to stay.”
Godfried was still speaking when the door opened again. But it was Barnet, not the mayor. “Sir Milo and Lady Amicia. It happens that I am hosting a few friends, including Aldermen Gausman and Ansquetil and their wives, for sup and dancing at my house tonight. I invite you to join us. The mayor suggests, Lady Amicia, that informal talk around the table might give you opportunity to explain your brother’s case more persuasively.”
Amicia looked at Milo, then Kenelm, seeking direction. Barnet continued, “Naturally, Lady Amicia, your guard will also be welcome. And we must not forget Sir Milo’s friend, Master Chapman. You are all invited. In fact, Master Chapman, in a friendlier setting we might have a more productive conversation about certain things.”
Milo spoke for all four. “Thank you, indeed, Alderman. Please tell us how to find your house and we will endeavor to attend.”
Copyright © 2013 by Philip D. Smith.
All rights reserved. International copyright secured.